The news that workplace fatalities had decreased by 17 percent for 2009 is welcomed, and it is presumed that standards and education in worker safety are working. A closer look, however, reveals that high unemployment was a major factor in the reduction of workplace accidents resulting in death.
Although workplace injuries have been declining for several years, the main reason is that the total hours worked in construction and other hazardous jobs have been on the decline. For example, construction spending fell 15 percent in 2009, representing the worst decline ever recorded. Commensurate with the drop in hazardous vocations, fatalities among private construction firms fell 16 percent in 2009. The best explanation for the sudden drop-off is the depressed economy.
Other declines in worker deaths were noted in the suicide rate and homicides at work, falling one percent from 2008. Transportation accidents, or those involving cars, trucks, airplanes, trains and other vehicles were still the number one cause of worker deaths.
New York Workplace Deaths
In New York, workplace deaths fell in 2008 from 213 to 184, reflecting the decline in construction jobs nationwide. Worker safety in New York, however, remains a problem, especially in the construction industry. The March 15, 2008, crane accident in New York City that killed four workers and injured at least 12 others highlighted many of the safety problems still facing New York construction workers. Before the accident, contractors at the site had been given 14 citations for failure to provide roof protection and to protect the public and property.
The crane accident came shortly after OSHA officials in New York had issued 44 citations for safety violations in connection with a fire that killed two firefighters who were fighting a fire at a condemned ground zero skyscraper. Five of the citations were listed as willful, meaning that the cited contractors had displayed "plain indifference to or intentional disregard for employee safety and health."
Most construction accidents in New York are the result of unsafe working conditions - a product of employer indifference, negligence or failure to follow established safety procedures. Inspections of potential hazardous sites or conditions are essential and failure to do so is an element in many fatal accidents.
After a Work Accident
Surviving family members of workers killed at the workplace need to contact an experienced workers' compensation attorney. New York has a complicated and confusing workers' compensation system that only a competent workers' compensation attorney can navigate. Further, there may be an opportunity to bring a lawsuit against a responsible party who isn't the victim's employer through a third-party claim.